A Victorian surgeon rescues a heavily disfigured man who is mistreated while scraping a living as a side-show freak. Behind his monstrous façade, there is revealed a person of kindness, intelligence and sophistication.

Director:

David Lynch

Writers:

Christopher De Vore (screenplay), Eric Bergren (screenplay) | 3 more credits »
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Popularity
1,579 ( 239)
Top Rated Movies #158 | Nominated for 8 Oscars. Another 10 wins & 14 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Anthony Hopkins ... Dr. Frederick Treves
John Hurt ... John Merrick
Anne Bancroft ... Mrs. Kendal
John Gielgud ... Carr Gomm
Wendy Hiller ... Mothershead
Freddie Jones ... Bytes
Michael Elphick ... Night Porter
Hannah Gordon ... Mrs. Treves
Helen Ryan ... Princess Alex
John Standing ... Fox
Dexter Fletcher ... Bytes' Boy
Lesley Dunlop ... Nora
Phoebe Nicholls ... Merrick's Mother
Pat Gorman ... Fairground Bobby
Claire Davenport Claire Davenport ... Fat Lady
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Storyline

In Victorian London, Dr. Frederick Treves with the London Hospital comes across a circus sideshow attraction run by a man named Bytes called "The Elephant Man". In actuality, the creature on display is indeed a man, twenty-one-year-old Joseph "John" Merrick, who has several physical deformities, including an oversized and disfigured skull, and an oversized and disfigured right shoulder. Brutish Bytes, his "owner", only wants whatever he can get economically by presenting Merrick as a freak. Treves manages to bring Merrick under his care at the hospital, not without several of its own obstacles, including being questioned by those in authority since Merrick cannot be cured. Treves initially believes Bytes' assertion that mute Merrick is an imbecile, but ultimately learns that Merrick can speak and is a well-read and articulate man. As news of Merrick hits the London newspapers, he becomes a celebrated curiosity amongst London's upper class, including with Mrs. Kendal, a famed actress. ... Written by Huggo

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

A true story of courage and human dignity. See more »

Genres:

Biography | Drama

Certificate:

PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

In this movie, Anne Bancroft played a theater actress. In real life, Bancroft was a stage actress before appearing in movies. See more »

Goofs

When Dr. Treves is bringing up the oatmeal to John Merrick and Carr Gomm startles him, he puts the oatmeal behind his back as to hide it from him. In the next shot he has the oatmeal in front of him and puts it behind his back again while he is walking towards Carr Gomm. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Skeleton Man: Get rid of them! I don't want to see them!
Fat Lady: Darling, don't be difficult! Let's take our sweet lovely children on an outing.
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Crazy Credits

Closing disclaimer: This has been based upon the true life story of John Merrick, known as The Elephant Man, and not upon the Broadway play of the same title or any other fictional account. See more »

Connections

Referenced in Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Magic Sword (1992) See more »

Soundtracks

Adagio for Strings, Op. 11
Composed by Samuel Barber
Performed by London Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by André Previn
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User Reviews

 
A heartbreaking expose of society
22 December 2004 | by The_VoidSee all my reviews

Nobody but Lynch could have directed this movie and made it the masterpiece that it is. Where other people would have gone for fake sentimentality and/or gruesome imagery; Lynch just presents the story how it is. The film is never gratuitous, and that is much to it's credit. It is, however, utterly repulsive. The black and white cinematography enforces this. There is nothing pleasant about The Elephant Man; it is as ugly as it's title character, and that is the way that this story needs to be. On the surface, it is ugly and repulsive; but just like it's title character; the movie has a hidden depth that is ultimately touching and heartbreaking. The movie sets itself up for this early on; the scene in which the Elephant Man is introduced is most of the most gut wrenching ever committed to film. As the doctor (Anthony Hopkins) sees the freak rise up and realises the extent of his deformity...a tear slowly form and rolls down his cheek. From this, you can see the pity that he feels for this man who has drawn the lot of a lowly circus freak; just from that one shot of a tear, David Lynch shows us the sorrow and the pity, and that's all he needs. Where some directors would have piled the sentimentality on, David Lynch is economic; that's all it needs, so that's all it gets. And that is the mark of a great director. Something that David Lynch most certainly is.

The film is also ironic. Aside from it's visuals that link to the title character, it also observes how society is not unlike a circus. The good doctor has taken the Elephant Man away from the glares and the scowls of the circus audience, the exploitation that he's had to face, and put him a kinder and more loving environment; only now the scowls and stares come not from the circus audience, but from society's upper crust, who want to exploit the Elephant Man themselves for their own selfish reasons - to impress their friends. The Elephant Man is not merely a horror story of the life of a very unfortunate man; it's a story of love, a story of acceptance. Despite being taken from one circus to another, the Elephant Man is happier and more fulfilled than he ever was; he doesn't care about the looks and the exploitation, he merely wants to be loved. By 'normal' people, this is taken for granted; but The Elephant Man shows us that love and acceptance isn't something that can be taken for granted. As one doctor notes in the film, "we can't imagine the life he's had". We can't.

David Lynch also succeeds in making voyeurs out of his audience. Just like the various audiences in the film; we too want to see the Elephant Man, and yet are utterly repulsed and disgusted by him. With this, David Lynch makes a mockery out of today's society, without ever making a mockery out of the character upon which this film is based. The Elephant Man himself is a perfectly balanced example of how pathos can be achieved. Not only is this man seen as a monster, but his character is pathetic also. With The Elephant Man, Lynch is saying to the world that it is society that is the monster, not the freaks that live within it.

To put it simply: David Lynch has taken a story that could have easily been told simply and expanded it to take in themes that are outside of the central premise. This small story of one unfortunate man has been moulded into a striking comment on society. And all in all; it's a masterpiece.


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Frequently Asked Questions

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Details

Country:

USA | UK

Language:

English | French

Release Date:

10 October 1980 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Elephant Man See more »

Filming Locations:

England, UK See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$5,000,000 (estimated)

Gross USA:

$26,010,864

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$26,023,706
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Brooksfilms See more »
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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (Criterion Collection)| Dolby Stereo

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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